ROME // The Italian government says it is building a "special alliance" with the UAE and the Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations, indicating a wish in the West to capitalise on the Emirates' efforts to maintain regional stability. Italy is preparing to take over the presidency of the G8 in January with a promise to invite a number of regional economic and political powers, including the UAE, to participate in the group's meetings.
The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, met Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the speaker of the Federal National Council, on Friday and shared his country's intention to shore up security and economic relations with the UAE. Mr Frattini said the UAE's participation in the G8 meetings would be at parliamentary and governmental levels. Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of Italy's Chamber of Deputies, has already invited Mr Ghurair to attend the G8 parliamentary meetings next year.
Mr Ghurair is leading a parliamentary delegation to several European countries, including Italy, Spain and Poland, where its members are meeting top officials, including presidents and prime ministers. The UAE would also be invited to what Mr Frattini termed a "special exercise" of the G8 that is planned to "discuss stabilisation of the Middle East and the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan".
"It's a highly sensitive political issue, where I think suggestion and contribution of the UAE would be extremely helpful," he said. He said his country sought the UAE's involvement because it was considered "a very good gateway to the GCC" and it enjoyed friendly relations with the rest of the Arab states. His remarks echo sentiments expressed during his visit to Abu Dhabi a week ago when he held talks with his counterpart Sheikh Abdullah, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has not been involved in G8 meetings before. But a number of developing countries, including Algeria, South Korea and Ghana, were invited to participate in some meetings at this summer's G8 summit in Japan. Paolo Dionisi, Italy's ambassador to the UAE, said the G8 had realised the need to involve regional powers when they discuss global issues. "The G8 countries can't believe that they can master the world. It's not the case any more," said Mr Dionisi.
"When you discuss the Iranian nuclear programme you have to invite the UAE. Even when you talk about Africa." He added that Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, would be invited to attend the group's ministerial meetings. Emirati officials would also attend meetings touching on technical issues, he said. The Federal National Council delegation has now finished its four-day visit to Rome and moves to Madrid today.
The Italian foreign minister stressed during his meeting with Mr Ghurair the need to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. "We discussed how to put political pressure on Iran in order to try and persuade this country to stop the nuclear proliferation and enrichment of uranium," Mr Frattini said. Speaking about the occupation of the three Emirati islands - Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs - he said he appreciated the UAE's restraint in avoiding "threats and retaliation" as it tried to regain the islands seized by Iran in 1971.
"The international community should help the UAE to make it possible that Iran understands that they are wrong and that they should sit around the table to discuss this issue." Last week, Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, said the island dispute should be resolved through mutual dialogue. He accused western powers of trying to use the dispute to raise tensions in the region to justify their military presence.
On Friday, Mr Ghurari met the president of the Italy Industrialists Association at a luncheon to discuss boosting relations between companies and UAE investors. The UAE is the biggest importer of Italian goods among the six GCC member states with imports reaching 41 per cent last year at a total of two billion euros. In the evening, the Italian parliament held a banquet in honour of the FNC delegation.
Sheikh Abdullah and Sheikh Mohammed plan to visit Italy before 2009 and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is expected on a return visit early next year. firstname.lastname@example.org